Sweet Butter

Sweet Butter ATG FINAL


Where: Sweet Butter
Location: 13824 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks
Cost: $$


What is it about seeing a line hanging out of a restaurant that instantly makes you feel like you’re missing out? I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but in L.A., anytime you see a group of people congregated outside a dining venue, it’s usually a place you want to be. Aside from word of mouth, it also happens to be the best form of free marketing for an establishment. I cannot tell you how many places I’ve frequented based merely on “line hanging out of the door” advertising. And 9 times out of 10, I can understand the hype. That 1 other time, well

Whenever I find myself driving down Ventura Boulevard on a sunny weekend morning or early afternoon (moon roof open and iPod on shuffle), inevitably, my eye would be drawn to the crowd of people just outside a little yellow building that channels a rustic, welcoming feeling. My eye would then look up and smile at the charming marquee. Sweet Butter. Something in the name just grabs you.

I don’t think there’s anything that I enjoy more than kicking-off a weekend by going out to breakfast. Sadly, it’s not something I get to do as often as I’d like, so I’m particularly picky when choosing a place. I’m all about the food (of course!) but I admit that I’m a sucker for good ambiance. I trust that when my fellow Angelenos feel the need to wait on the sidewalk for a table, it must be for something pretty special. Angelenos don’t typically have the patience to just stand around…especially when you can walk 2 minutes in either direction to find somewhere else to eat.

Sweet Butter Seating _ATG FINAL

{Exterior/The best seats in the house.}

After hitting Yelp to ensure legitimacy, Sweet Butter became the next place to conquer. Though I can appreciate the kind of business that has people so into it that they’re willing to stand on the sidewalk for scrambled eggs, I made it a point to go during their slower time for my inaugural visit. It was a crisp, Friday morning in January around 10:00am, the place practically deserted. In other words, perfect timing.

I was immediately struck by the “homey” feel to Sweet Butter and the use of the space. As you enter through wrought iron gates you’re instantly welcomed by a seating area, doors on either side of it. The one of the left leading to where the magic happens, the kitchen. The one on the right, where you consume and enjoy the magic. It holds the bakery, market, coffee bar, and most importantly, it’s where you order.

Sweet Butter Welcoming Words_ATG FINAL

{Positive words and cucumber-infused water to greet you.}

Sweet Butter Market_ATG FINAL

{Sweet Butter has a charming little market inside, were you can purchase everything from jam to candles.}

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{Perusing the menu. / Checking out the interior shop.}

The menu is diverse enough to cater to anyone’s needs – whether you’re in the mood for breakfast (served all day), a hearty salad, a sandwich or a wrap. The same attention given to the decor, is equally allocated to the ingredients used on the menu. Sweet Butter’s turkey, chicken, and beef are all free-range or grass-feed. They personally make their own salad dressing, spreads, and pastries in-house using the freshest of ingredients, without preservatives. Are you vegan or gluten-intolerant? Heck, do you need a last-minute gift for the foodie in your life? Sweet Butter’s got you covered.

Swwt Butter Interior ATG FINAL

{Interior. Artisan products for sale.}

Sweet Butter Interiors ATG FINAL

{Coffee bar menu. / Bookshelf full of goodies to purchase.}

Caffeine addicts: I was beyond bummed when I ordered a “vanilla” latte and was told that they don’t make them. (Boo!) The baritsa was quick to try to put a smile on my face and offered their signature “sweet latte” made with simple syrup instead. My frown was instantly turned upside down. She was right. I didn’t miss the subtle sweetness of vanilla, the simple syrup did just the trick – and I’m sure in a much healthier fashion. Admittedly, I’ve been back a handful of times just to stop in and grab a latte to-go.

Sweet Butter Latte_ATG FINAL

{Their sweet latte is to die for. It’s my favorite new place to grab a latte in the Valley.}

I must have passed the wrought iron gates and yellow walls of Sweet Butter on Ventura Boulevard dozens of times over the last few years, always making a mental note that my next girl’s brunch would find me there. Unfortunately, the blessing and the curse of living in a big city with dining options abound, is that it’s slightly overwhelming! I simply never got around to it. I don’t know what it was that made me finally stop being so curious about what was on the other side of the crowded sidewalk. Perhaps it really came down to feeling like I was missing out. And indeed, I was.

Since there are as many cafés in LA as there are out of work actors, I’m looking for what makes an establishment stand out. Of course, a long line of devotees is a good start, but what more does it have to offer? Sweet Butter creates an experience around food. From the quality ingredients, to the welcoming decor; the artisan shop, to the best latte I’d had in a while.

And you know me, if the latte’s right…I’ll be back.

Overview:

PROS: Great ambiance, quaint market, fresh ingredients, well-curated breakfast and lunch menu, staff friendly, vegan and gluten-free options available, pay before you eat (perfect for when you don’t want the hassle of splitting the bill), and online ordering ready for in-store pick-up.

CONS: Parking is difficult (but when is it not?), coffee is pricey (but worth it), the lunch rush and weekends are extremely busy (I waited 45 MINUTES during my second visit to receive my order), and hard to find a table during rush times.

Swwet Butter Pancakes_ATG FINAL 2

{Mia’s Breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, blueberry pancakes.}

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New Year’s Eve with Señor Fred

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Location: 13730 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks

With the Christmas season and our Carmel getaway behind me, one last important celebratory holiday milestone to go – New Year’s Eve. My boyfriend and I decided to keep it very low key this year, with an intimate dinner at Señor Fred Restaurant in Sherman Oaks; followed by a casual movie night at home with a Martinelli’s Apple Cider toast at midnight.

Señor Fred offers a perfect dark sexy ambiance, balanced with delectable Mexican cuisine. Since it was New Year’s Eve, the expectation was that every restaurant in town was going to be pretty packed. God bless Open Table! We put in for an 8:00pm reservation and when I called the restaurant to check to see if they were only serving a prix-fixe menu or if patrons could order from the regular menu as well, I was less than enthused by the guy who answered the phone. He wasn’t rude exactly, but told me that he thought he had blocked off all Open Table reservations during the 8 o’clock hour, so that people entering after 9:00pm would be charged the $10 cover for the night.

I almost wanted to cancel my reservation altogether when he told me that as long as we were done between 9:30pm-10:00pm it should be fine. While this seemed like plenty of time to finish our meal, the fact that he even communicated a time limit made me nervous. The idea of being rushed to accommodate the fact that he screwed up with the reservation system should not have even come up in the conversation.  Bottom line: that was between him, Señor Fred, and Opentable.com.

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{Margarita selection.}

While Señor Fred certainly didn’t make the best first impression, or second for that matter when there was a slight mix-up in where to seat us, by the third impression – once the chips and guacamole came out, Señor Fred had begun to redeem himself. From there, the night went flawlessly (minus some service issues from a seemingly distracted, but pleasant waiter).

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{Chips and guacamole. Divine.}

I went with the Grilled Salmon infused with Mexican flair served in a roasted chile cilantro sauce, over sweet corn, shrimp picadillos and mashed potatoes. For dessert, I splurged on the Chanpurrado con Churros (translation: churros served with Mexican Hot Chocolate). Fabulous! 🙂

Needless to say, this gal was more than impressed with the food and the ambiance for her last meal of 2012; but service, service, service always brings the dining experience to absolute perfection. Senor Fred can cook, but he seriously needs some help on his people skills.

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{Dinner: Grilled Salmon.}

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{Dessert: Mexican Hot Chocolate and Churros.}

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{Back at home – N.Y.E. toast.}

How I Custom Designed My Own Pizza

Location: 12103 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City

So I know that turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce are all that’s on the brain this week, but I just had to share the great news with you! I cannot at all take the credit for this awesome find, my boyfriend told me about it, but the moment we stepped inside I knew pizza would never be the same. It was described to me as the “Chipotle for pizza!”

Pizza Rev sits not too far from the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. Its motto: craft your own pizza. My motto: I’ll take everything on mine!

{Making the dough.}

{Over 30 toppings to choose from.}

Interestingly, the decor reminds me a lot of Chipotle, down to the buffet style ordering set-up as you move along in line to build your own pizza, starting with their homemade dough. Next, choose your cheese, choose your sauce, and then choose your toppings. The thrilling thing about this place is that for $7.95 you can put ANYTHING you want on your personal sized pie. The sky’s the limit. Naturally, I went overboard as one does with a buffet of toppings to choose from.

{Building mine!}

For our gluten-free friends, Pizza Rev has you covered. While a small $2.00 increase comes with ordering their wheat free crust, unlimited toppings more than make up for it. If you’re too tired to create your own (and who in the world would these people be?) you can also order from their “Our Way” menu and stick with the basics.

{In the oven.}

A short wait while your custom designed pizza cooks in their open deck oven and you’re out the door. I crafted a regular dough pizza with olive oil, mozzarella, feta cheese, ricotta, all beef pepperoni, ham, spinach, tomato, mushroom, pineapple, and black olives! Told you, I went overboard, but O.M.G. was it delish!!

{My finished custom designed pizza :)}

Buttercelli Bakeshop, Sherman Oaks

Location: 13722 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks

The search for the best cupcakes around town continues. Buttercelli sits in a sweet little spot on the very busy Ventura Boulevard in “The Oaks” (yep, I came up with that myself!). My second time here puts this place in the “so-so” category. Let me explain…

It was a H.O.T. Sunday afternoon earlier this summer. After spending the morning at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, we made a quick and spontaneous decision to head over to Buttercelli to check out their selection. They have one of the largest gluten free baked goods sections that I’ve come across to date (for the boyfriend) and somehow I always feel better about eating sweet treats when they’re promoted to be of the finest organic ingredients. I went with a simple lemon cupcake and because it was over 100 degrees outside, I didn’t want the frosting to melt while sitting on my kitchen counter and put it in the fridge. A complete no-no, of course, but it was too H.O.T. not to. When I ate the tiny treat later that night, the cake portion was hard. Boo!

Take 2.

Since it was the “weather’s fault” that I didn’t get to experience all the hype from my first time at Buttercelli, I made it a point with the recent cooling temperatures not to make the same intentional mistake twice! I left with an apple pie cupcake and a lemon poppy-seed muffin.

{My treats.}

The apple pie cupcake was delicious, but unfortunately the cake portion was hard on the edges and not as moist as some other places I’ve been in general. I swear, no fridge was involved this time. The next morning, the lemon poppy-seed muffin went well with my coffee for breakfast. This treat was both moist and delicious.

As such, I can’t quite figure out what’s going on with their cupcakes. Their Yelp reviews are positive overall, the other customers I’ve met in-store rave about the place, and the staff have always been very friendly and confident in their goodies. Perhaps the point is to eat the treat right away. The store must have some magical tool in the air to keep their goods fresh and the minute you walk out the door their stock plummets.

Either way, it shouldn’t be this much work on my end to enjoy a cupcake (in decent weather no less). Kudos to them for the gluten free selection and the use of organic ingredients.

Bottom line? I’m not too convinced of this place’s awesomeness. The muffin was good and a bite of my guy’s chocolate thumbprint was yummy, but why is it that the cupcakes can’t seem to float my boat?  I rate Buttercelli “so-so.”

Ode to Bookstores

Location: 12136 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City

It’s funny how some things just stick and feel so comforting. When I was younger I spent a lot of time hanging out in bookstores. My mom and I would go out on a Friday or Saturday night to the local Borders or Barnes & Noble, grab a coffee (I was hot chocolate at the time) and go our separate ways for a few hours. I would walk over and listen to CDs getting excited when the technology finally allowed you to scan any CD in the store and you could listen to it. I’d wander to another section and skim through a magazine or walk over and find a book that grabbed me with a catchy title, sit and look through it.

Fifteen years later and in gratitude to my mom, this is still one of the things that I love to do occasionally. When I’m bored, when I’m in a not so great mood, or I’m eager to check out a new book; I’ll go and sit in a bookstore, latte in hand, and melt into another place for a while. Last Saturday night, I revisited this favorite pastime of mine. How appropriate that the bookstore I landed in was an old movie theater with the marquee still intact. It gave it a unique charm. Sadly, there was no in-house coffee bar and it lacked some of the warmth that your typical Barnes & Noble would have (warm lighting and lots of seating) but I was happy to be around the books and exploring a new place none the less.

I know that times are changing and it’s becoming rare to have nights like this as more bookstores close or go out of business. I, too, am guilty of the ease and cost of ordering online, but nothing replaces the feeling or the experience of physically being around books. I’ll continue my love affair with bookstores until the last one closes, and my optimistic side hopes that day never comes.

Checking out Emily’s new book from her popular blog, Cupcakes and Cashmere.
Rows and rows of books!

The Queen of Versailles

Location: 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino

I’m not a Monday kinda gal. In fact, I’ve been making every effort to bring some sparkle to this dreaded day by making plans with my boyfriend after work to have something to look forward to throughout the day as I get re-acclimated to the routine of the work week. This past Monday was especially filled with some “sparkle” to say the least.

Having been a patron of the historic Laemmle Theaters on the west side of the city for quite some time now, I was excited to finally visit The Town Center 5 in Encino to indulge in my OBSESSION for documentary and independent cinema. There’s something so endearing about actually having to buy tickets through a window, sitting in an old movie theater, and eating decently priced popcorn – with FREE parking, no less.

Tonight’s flick? The Queen of Versailles, one of the most fascinating cinematic experiences I’ve had this summer. 1 hour and 40 minutes of complete access to seeing how the other side lives.

The film chronicles the lifestyles of the rich and *semi* famous (I had never heard of them prior to the movie). Billionaire couple, David and Jackie Siegel, are in the midst of building the most expensive home in the United States, an astounding 90,000 square foot American castle modeled after their love of the Palace of Versailles in France.Talk about “champagne wishes and caviar dreams!” I could literally hear Robin Leach in my head during the first half hour of the film as director Lauren Greenfield takes us into a world filled with chauffeurs, maids, nannies, private planes, closets filled with high-end in designers, diamonds, and Jackie Siegel’s very obvious boob job.

Until…

…the economic meltdown that will forever be the Year of our Lord, 2008. Though David and Jackie struggle in their own right (but still seemed to be living the high life compared to us 99 “percent-ers”) we are instantly transitioned into how this time impacts their spending, their family dynamic, and their relationship. I wouldn’t call this a riches-to-rags story, because the Siegels still slept in a mansion every night and not under a freeway; but cutting their personal house staff from 19 to 4 (with 8 children), taking commercial flights when traveling, shopping for Christmas presents at Walmart, and getting into disagreements about not turning off the lights in the mansion to conserve electricity bills are the highlights of their difficulties.

What resonated about the film is that you’d assume that people this wealthy would be completely mean-spirited, spoiled, and disillusioned; but there is a humanity to them that doesn’t make you hate the Siegels as you exit the movie theater. Jackie might look like your typical blonde trying to battle the aging process, married to an affluent man 30 years her senior, who is somewhat unenlightened about what is going on with her family’s finances; but she has such a charm and presence on-screen that you’re drawn to her. She’s funny, has an honesty about her that’s refreshing, studied engineering (hello!?!), and shares her compassionate side by loaning a good friend $5,000 when her house is in jeopardy of foreclosure. The fact that she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on with her personal finances alludes more to her disconnection from her husband, who in contrast is taking their economic hardships with great strife. By the end of the film, David has gone from a jovial, hardcore supporter of the Miss America Pageant festivities and women in general; to a man who barricades himself inside of a cluttered man cave, completely ignorant (or uninterested) of the family life around him.

The film doesn’t end with things on the mend, instead it depicts what we’re all still dealing with nearly 4 years later: making compromises to deal with the changing economic climate and reassessing how we spend.

I walked away from this film with three feelings:

{1}. No matter where you are in life and your set-point in your lifestyle, it seems that it’s never enough. Prior to the financial crisis and even during it, the Siegels seem to have it all: Wealth (or at least still more money than most), health, family and friends. Perhaps this is the best example of “having it all” but still feeling it’s not enough. The takeaway being that if billionaires still need more, we’re all in trouble.

{2}. There is such a thing as “too much” and it doesn’t necessarily guarantee your continued success. David Siegel, despite his initial accomplishments, was not exempt from the happenings of 2008, nor did he seem to be prepared to deal with the day when his fortune might be threatened. And p.s. – Why would anyone want to live in a 90,000 square foot home?

{3}. I promise I paid attention to the film, but spent at least half the movie staring directly at Jackie’s chest wondering how she doesn’t experience severe daily back pain?

A sparkling Monday night indeed!